On this week’s 2-Minute Tuesday, Austin sits down with singer-songwriter and author McKenna Bray to talk about children’s books, music, and reaching your dreams.
Watch it here or check out the full transcript below!
McKenna Bray Video Full Transcript
Austin: Austin here with Tour Collierville, and today I’m here with a very special guest. She is a local singer/songwriter and author, McKenna Bray. McKenna, thanks for coming in.
McKenna: Thanks for having me.
Austin: So, if you could, give us a little bit of background about yourself and where you’re from.
McKenna: Well, I’m actually from Collierville. And I grew up here, born and raised. And my quick summary of my story is that I grew up doing anything but what I do now.
Austin: It’s funny how that goes.
McKenna: I know. I don’t know why I never pursued it, but I am a musician now and a children’s book author. But prior, I just did sports my whole life, was involved with my school student council and then went to college and got a business degree and did not do music or book stuff until I graduated.
Austin: Wow, yeah. That’s crazy. And then you got into all kinds of stuff.
McKenna: Yeah, I kind of just like… head first. I was like, okay, this is my new life.
Austin: Well, let’s jump into the children’s book first. And so you just released a book recently, right? How long has it been since you…
McKenna: It came out October 24th this… in 2018.
Austin: And Pippa, right?
McKenna: Yeah. It’s called Pippa, P-I-P-P-A.
Austin: Okay. So who is Pippa?
McKenna: She is a character who is similar to me, I guess. She sings and plays guitar. And kind of the whole purpose of the story is about a girl who just travels all throughout the town with her music. And she heals people with her songs. And so whether… She’s not a doctor, she’s not all of these things, but the one thing she can use is her gift with music.
Austin: Very cool. So how did this whole inspiration, you know, this idea, come about?
McKenna: It’s a weird story. Long story short, I was at an antique store—I love antiquing—and I found this old, like, poetry book by Robert Browning, and I was… I just picked it up because I thought the cover was pretty for my bookshelves. And so, I got home one night from a gig, and I was just like… I had just started music, and I was like all over the place. Like, what am I doing? I’m not good enough. Why am I doing this? There are so many fish in the pond doing what I do; how am I going to make a living? And then I felt like I needed to open up this poetry book by my bed. And I was like, that’s really weird. But okay. I couldn’t sleep, and so I picked up the book, and where the bookmark was was Six Songs from Pippa Passes. It’s a poem by Robert Browning, and it’s about a girl who travels throughout the world, healing people through song. And I was like, maybe that’s my calling in life? I don’t know.
Austin: So, there’s books in Barnes and Noble, right, and other places around town?
McKenna: Yes. Pippa is in Barnes and Noble, Novel here in Memphis, and its online at Amazon. And my website, McKennaBray.com. And at covenantbooks.com.
Austin: Well, we’ve already touched on the music some. Let’s go ahead and dive into that. You’re a musician. You released your first record this year, Once in a Blue Moon. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you decided to get into music?
McKenna: Yeah. So I, again—like, long story short—went to college, and I majored in just business itself. And so, during that time, I felt like I wasn’t… I didn’t want to pursue business in like a corporate way, and I didn’t know what to do, so I started leading worship through my ministry in college. And then I a video to American Idol, and then I got a callback for the show, and they wanted like a private audition in Nashville. And I was like, what the heck? I didn’t know where to start, because I didn’t pursue music at all.
Austin: You weren’t a singer or a musician in high school or anything, were you?
McKenna: Not at all.
Austin: So it all started through church?
McKenna: Yeah. It started through church, and then I sent a video—because I didn’t know what else to do. And I went to my audition in Nashville, and it didn’t work out, which was, honestly, a blessing. And I met my manager; I had a voice lesson with her before I went. My dad was like, “You should probably get a voice lesson before you go try out for a reality tv show.”
Austin: (laughs) Yeah. That’s a good dad. Gotta be prepared.
McKenna: Right? Yeah, and so, I went to her house, and like I sang for her. And she was like, “I don’t want you trying out. I want you to figure out who you are as an artist. I want you to, like, start writing.” Because she was like, “I want to produce you.” And I was like whoa whoa whoa. And so she introduced me to the entire world of music. And then I started writing, and that’s where Once in a Blue Moon came from was just that whole process of me kind of discovering who I am as an artist, what kind of music I like, and then from there, over the past three years, we’ve been working on the record, and it came out June of 2018.
Austin: Gotcha. Cool. So when you were singing in church and stuff, did you have a lot of people who were urging you—like, hey look, you’ve got a real talent here, and you need to do something about it? Or was it something you kind of… You were like, “I’m into this,” and kind of did it of your own volition?
McKenna: It was definitely… I’m always the kind of person needing affirmation, because I’m a self-doubter all the time. And so, literally everybody was so encouraging. They were like, “You have a gift. And you should do something with it.” It’s so much easier to just stay at home and not put yourself out there like that, but I felt like I was wasting what I’d been given, and so I was like, “Okay. I’ll go for it.”
Austin: And then American Idol, of all things, right?
McKenna: I know. I was like, that was insane. I couldn’t believe they called me back. I didn’t know they watched those things.
Austin: How was that experience overall?
McKenna: It was… I think it was more of an eye-opening experience. Because I was like, “Oh, I got a callback! My life is going to be so different!”
Austin: Right? But did that mean you got to go back in front of the judges?
McKenna: So, I could have gone and waited in line and gone through that process, but I just submitted a video because I was scared.
Austin: Understandably. I would be pretty scared.
McKenna: I thought that maybe if I just sent a video, maybe I don’t have to do anything. And then I got a call back from, like, one of the producers. He was like, “Hey, we’d like to have a private audition for you in Nashville.” And so that’s when I went and had my audition there.
Austin: Well, tell me a little bit about, you know, where did you record Once in a Blue Moon?
McKenna: Yeah. We recorded that at Sam Phillips Recording Studio on Madison.
Austin: Wow. Was that intimidating?
McKenna: Oh, gosh yes. I think everything I’ve done has been the most intimidating thing I’ve ever done.
McKenna: I’m just learning to… You know what? Just go for it. Make a fool of myself. But I got to record where, like, legends have recorded. And like it was just so surreal. And I got to work with Ken Coomer, who’s an amazing drummer in Nashville. Played with Wilco. Grammy award-winning engineer and producer Matt Ross-Pang. And Susan Marshall produced the record. Jeff Powell engineered it. Like, they brought in like the A-Team of Memphis on my record. And I was like so intimidated. I felt like, “Oh my gosh.”
Austin: I’ve been just like… Walking through there and touring the place takes your breath away. It’s intimidating in itself. I can’t imagine having to go in there and you know, do your work.
McKenna: It was wild. And then you have like these songs that you’ve personally written, and you’re like, “Okay. Hey everyone, this is my heart and soul.” But that’s what they’re used to. That’s… They created such an atmosphere that was so welcomed, and they were so fun to work with. You know, you’re there for hours, but we had such a good time.
Austin: That’s awesome. So, you write all your own music?
McKenna: (nods) Mmhmm.
Austin: So can you give me a little insight into how that writing process works for you?
McKenna: Yeah. So I honestly did not start writing until like three or four years ago. But for me, it’s uh… Everyone has a different… Some people write every day at like 2 o’clock. I’m just like so ADD that I’m like, “Oh, I don’t feel like writing today.” But typically, I’ll wake up and I’ll go… Like, I have a space for writing. And I’ll have just like a guitar and piano. And I’ll spend, with my journal, whatever is kind of on my mind. Honestly, my best songs come when I’m driving or I’m in the shower or if I’m getting ready. It’s just when you’re not having to focus, it’s like your brain is like… I’ll whistle all the time, and, like, a melody will come. And I’ll record it on my voice memo and then go back home and write it out. Some songs take like three months to finish. And some take, like, an hour. Because they just come to you so fast.
Austin: So you said you’re going to Orlando and doing some shows there. Are there any shows coming up around here?
McKenna: Yeah. Actually, I’m really excited about this. I got to be on the Sun Studio Sessions, which is on Season 10. So they’re broadcasting that all over the US this year on PBS. So all the local channels.
Austin: Definitely have to look out for that one. That’s cool.
McKenna: They’re all at like different times, just because of different cities. So I’ll be, um… It’s like a 30-minute episode, and it’ll be me at Sun Studios recording my own songs. And there’s an interview aspect that goes with it. So that’ll be going throughout the entire year.
Austin: Wow. That’s super cool. So, tell me: Favorite venue and Dream venue?
McKenna: Oof. I know my dream venue. I’ll wait to tell that one. My favorite venue so far… I sang in Nashville once, and… It was at like a private event, though. It was so neat. It was for a non-profit, and we were raising money for it, and I got to sing with Mo Pitney and Jimmy Fortune, who are, like, your classic country music artists. And I was… It was just like a singer-songwriter bluebird’s style, and we were at like this huge church. And it was just us three doing our singer-songwriter stuff. I just kind of felt like that was my home, and I felt like I was with, like, your classic country… I’m like Americana-Country music, so I got to sing with them. And it was just so amazing. And the people that were there… I like more singer-songwriter type stuff. I sing at bars all the time to pay the bills. But those kinds of events mean the most to me. And my dream venue is the Opry.
Austin: Oh yeah.
McKenna: It’ll happen one day. (both laugh) I hope so.
Austin: So who were your favorite singers, kind of, growing up? Who inspired you and your sound today?
McKenna: Growing up, my parents, we listened to your classic country radio. And my dad loved Aerosmith and, like, rock music. So I feel like I’m… I love Aerosmith. They’re great.
Austin: Me too. Gotta love Aerosmith.
McKenna: I know! And then we listened to, like, Martina McBride , Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, Allison Krause, Johnny Cash… So it was kind of that lane. And so I really feel like I’ve blended what I grew up listening to. So… And I mean, I love—Allison Krause is probably, like, one of my favorites. I also like Casey Musgrave. She’s one of my favorites. She’s amazing.
Austin: Oh yeah. Gotta love Casey Musgrave. She’s good. So, you know, you’re juggling both the book and the record. What’s coming next? You got another book coming? Will it be Pippa-related? Or is it a record that’s coming next?
McKenna: That’s a good question. It’s definitely another record. We’ve got some songs already finished writing. So, we’re going to go back into the studio and work on the second album.
Austin: Very exciting. So do you see a future with Pippa and more Pippa-related books?
McKenna: Oh yeah. I just thought of this whole vision for her. She’s going to make it. If I don’t, Pippa will.
Austin: That’s right. Well, I think ya’ll both have exciting things in ya’ll’s future. Okay, so tell us: Where can we find you and your music? The book?
McKenna: So you can find… I have a website: McKennaBray.com, and you can find everything on there. But my music is sold on everywhere. Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube—just everywhere you can find music. And my book is sold at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and just like I said previously, on my website. And then also on Social Media. That’s kind of where I am most of the time. So I’ve got Instagram, Facebook, Twitter… All those fun things. So, McKenna Bray.
Austin: All right, yeah. We’ll have to… Everybody stay plugged in. She’s got all kinds of things coming up. So thanks again for coming in.
McKenna: Of course. Thank you.